Research Labs Reopen Under A New Normal
The computer screen in Cagla Eroglu’s lab is teeming with activity. A computer mouse cursor moves freely around a large, crimson blotch (an image of a mouse brain cell) in the center of the screen as numbers and graphs are updated on the left side of the screen.
The thing is, no one is sitting at the computer. But this is no ghost in the machine.
“Right now, somebody is connected to this computer and working remotely on computational image analysis,” says Eroglu, PhD, associate professor of both cell biology and neurobiology, whose lab is in the Nanaline Duke Research Building.
Welcome to the new normal – for now – across Duke’s medical research campus. Remote connectivity, reduced staff working on staggered schedules, mandatory masking, and social distancing are the new protocols while the campus continues to live in a COVID-19 world.
When Duke University went into partial lockdown in March, only a few, select labs that are working on a COVID-19 vaccine and treatment were allowed to remain open. The majority of labs were shuttered for safety reasons, sending thousands of lab workers home, and forcing investigators to scrap or pause aspects of their research.
In May, a phased-in process of reopening labs began, and by June 15 most labs were functioning at least on a partial basis.
For Duke University School of Medicine researchers like Eroglu, David Kirsch, MD, PhD, and Amanda MacLeod, MD, temporarily closing their labs was nothing short of titanic.
“We needed to come up with a plan to close our lab within 48 hours. There was a lot to do,” said Kirsch, the Barbara Levine University Professor in the Departments of Radiation Oncology and Pharmacology & Cancer Biology. His team is studying how cancer develops and spreads, with the hope of finding a cure or developing new treatments to fight cancer.